Brian Dean Humor

How to Write Limericks: Part 4

Writing an Idea-based Limerick

Now it's time to break down the writing process and show how a typical limerick is written. We'll start with a basic idea: a pogo stick tester jumps too high and never comes down.

The setup identifies the main character and describes the situation:

A pogo stick tester named _______,
Tried to leap from a platform quite high,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
---- --- ------ ---- --- ------ ,
---- --- --------- ---- _________.

The next step is to write the punch line. We'll do that by rhyming line 2.

Line 2 ends with HIGH because it's easier to rhyme a short word. If we said, “Tried to jump from a really high platform”, we would have trouble rhyming PLATFORM (and too many syllables). At this point, we're looking for a way to set up the situation with just a few words, and the correct number of syllables (9).

Also, because it is often difficult to find three words that rhyme, we'll wait to give our person a name. That way, if we need one of the “real” rhyming words for the last line, we can use a made-up name, like “McFly.”

The next step is to use the Rhyming Alphabet to list possible rhymes for HIGH. We'll include homonyms, words that sound alike, but have different meanings or spellings.

The Rhyming Alphabet

Now that we have all the rhymes, we can think about how one of these words can help answer the question, “What happened?” Here's the list again, with notes on possible ways to “solve the problem” and create a punch line:

Some of the possible “solutions” are a bit lame: A bird said Hi? He landed in pie? He couldn't stay dry? BORING.

Remember the basic idea: he jumps and never comes down...from the SKY. Hey, that rhymes! Now we can write the punch line:

A pogo stick tester named Guy,
Tried to leap from a platform quite high,
--- --- ------ --- ---,
--- --- ------ --- ---,
And never came down from the sky.

OK, we're making progress. Now we need to know WHY he didn't come down. We have lines 3 and 4 to explain what happened to keep Guy from returning from the sky. Now we can brainstorm a list of reasons that might happen — a SILLY list.

Keep writing possible ideas until something seems both funny and logical, AND works with the punch line. For example, “his pogo stick broke” might be a logical reason, but it doesn't make sense with “never came down from the sky” — he wouldn't get to the sky.

Now we can try a few possible ideas that work with “And never came down from the SKY.”

He got stuck in a TREE,
And was there until THREE

But a flying jetliner...
[Oops, can't rhyme jetliner]
But a low-flying PLANE,
Made a mess of his BRAIN

But a big ugly vulture...
[Oops, can't rhyme vulture]
But a vulture quite BIG,
Grabbed both Guy and his RIG

If you run out of ideas, you may have to change your last line again. Maybe landing in pie can be made funny, after all. Some limericks require a great deal of rewriting, and a few just never work out, no matter how hard you try.

In this example, there is one other “solution” that explains why Guy didn't come down from the sky:

A pogo stick tester named Guy,
Tried to leap from a platform quite high,
But the spring was too strong,
Guy flew up with a SPRONGGG,
And never came down from the sky.

Line 4 uses onomatopoeia, a word that imitates the sound it is describing. SPRONGGG makes a kind of sound effect for this “word cartoon.”

As you can see, writing a limerick is a bit like solving a mystery. You need to keep asking, “What happened?” and finding silly or funny answers.

NEXT: Writing a Limerick About a Friend